Planning services merger taken off table in Columbia County

County and Dayton officials may pursue the idea later.

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DAYTON — Columbia County Commissioners decided Wednesday morning to shelve pursuit of a joint planning commission with Dayton, effectively ending current discussions about a joint city-county planning department.

The county and city had been discussing merging planning services to allow for more efficient work and iron out differences between city and county zoning codes that have caused confusion in the past.

Dayton’s City Council, however, decided in a 5-1 vote last week to go it alone. The city will hire its own planner, and interviewed two finalists on Monday for the open position.

County Commissioner Mike Talbott had been working with Dayton Mayor Craig George to combine city and county planning. Talbott said commissioners were discussing a joint planning commission only after the council decided against merging the two offices.

At Wednesday’s meeting, however, the commissioners learned about a possible wind energy project that would bring approximately 130 new turbines to the county. Commissioners decided the extra planning required to undertake such a large project would make combining commissions impractical given the high volume of requests they would have to deal with.

In addition to the recent developments, both city and county officials had concerns about the feasibility of combining planning at this time. Council member Bill Graham, who sits on the city’s planning committee, said he voted for a Dayton planner because he felt there was confusion with the county about its dedication to the merger.

“There’s been a little bit of unpredictability with the commissioners,” he said.

Previous efforts to combine the two have stalled due to confusion between different city and county codes and miscommunications between the two bodies.

County Commissioners discussed planning at their March 20 meeting and authorized Talbott to move forward on negotiations with the city. Talbott said he was disappointed by the council’s decision not to pursue a joint agreement, though he hopes talks will be restarted in about a year.

The lone dissenting vote on city council was cast by Arthur Hall, chairman of the city’s planning committee. He said he thought the idea was in the best interests of Dayton residents because it would have allowed for greater efficiency in planning.

“I felt that the product would be better,” he said. “It seems silly to have two separate departments working in the same small area.”

Even without a single planning office, Graham said the city and county will likely revisit the issue of merging planning services.

“I think in the future, we’ll be open to the possibility,” he said.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

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